"By bringing marginalized perspectives to the table, it can generate new questions and methodologies that help scientists identify and correct for hidden bias. Think of it as a stake strapped to a growing tree: it provides scaffolding to help the tree get back on track when it starts to lean too far to one side.... In 2012, [evolutionary biologist Patricia] Gowaty performed a series of careful replication experiments with fruit flies that challenged the longstanding 'Bateman’s Principle' of sexual selection. Her findings helped show that this principle, which states that males tend to be more promiscuous than females due to the asymmetry between sperm and eggs, was more of a hypothesis — and a flawed one at that."
Yet outside of gender studies departments, Gowaty’s work isn’t widely taught. Meanwhile, in hallowed halls like Oxford, Bateman’s Principle is still canon. Part of the reason, writes author Lucy Cooke in her recent book 'Bitch: On The Female of the Species,' is that Gowaty was effectively branded as an ideologically-driven feminist....
Even scientists I interviewed for my book... for instance, the urologist mapping the human clitoris to reveal an 'iceberg organ' or the bioengineer convincing her field that the uterus is a uniquely regenerative organ — balked at the idea of calling their work feminist....
What we lose when feminism is minimized is an understanding of how science actually works. Striking out the word 'feminist' perpetuates the outdated idea that scientists should (and can) be objective — that when they enter the lab, they somehow strip off the values, quirks, and preconceptions that plague the rest of us mortals. In reality, the language of objectivity has long served as a cloak for political ends, whether it’s race science being used to support eugenic policies, or pro-life lawyers marshalling studies to allegedly prove that life starts at conception.
"Our team repeated Bateman's experiment and found that what some accepted as bedrock may actually be quicksand. It is possible that Bateman's paper should never have been published." ...
The original experiment on Drosophila melanogaster, also known as the common fruit fly, was performed by creating multiple, isolated populations with either five males and five females or three of each gender in a jar. The insects mated freely in the experimental populations, and Bateman examined the children that made it to adulthood.
To count the number of adult offspring engendered by each of his original insect subjects, Bateman needed a reliable way to match parents with children. Nowadays, modern geneticists would use molecular evidence to determine the genetic parentage of each child, but DNA analysis was not available in the 1940s. Instead, Bateman chose his initial specimens carefully, selecting D. melanogaster flies that each had a unique, visible mutation that could be transferred from parent to child, Gowaty said.
The mutations were extreme. Some of the flies had curly wings, others thick bristles, and still others had eyes reduced in size to narrow slits. The outward differences in each breeding subject allowed Bateman to work backward to determine the parentage of some of the fly progeny and to document each mating pair among the original insects. A child with curly wings and thick bristles, for example, could only have come from one possible pairing.
Yet Bateman's method, which was cutting-edge for its time, had a "fatal flaw," according to Gowaty. Imagine the child of a curly-winged mother and an eyeless father. The child has an equal chance of having both mutations, only the father's mutation, only the mother's mutation or no mutation at all. In order to know who mated with whom, Bateman used only the children with two mutations, because these were the only ones for which he could specifically identify both the mother and father. But by counting only the children with two mutations, Bateman probably got a skewed sample, Gowaty said.
In repeating Bateman's experiment, she and her colleagues found that the flies with two severe mutations are less likely to survive into adulthood. Flies use their wings not only to hover but also to sing during courtship, which is why curly wings present a huge disadvantage. Specimens with deformed eyes might have an even tougher time surviving. The 25 percent of children born with both mutations were even more likely to die before being counted by Bateman or Gowaty.
"It's not surprising that the kids died like flies when they got one dramatic mutation from mom and another dramatic mutation from dad," she said. Gowaty found that the fraction of double-mutant offspring was significantly below the expected 25 percent, which means Bateman would have been unable to accurately quantify the number of mates for each adult subject.
Further, his methodology resulted in more offspring being assigned to fathers than mothers, something that is impossible when each child must have both a father and a mother, Gowaty said. Bateman concluded that male fruit flies produce many more viable offspring when they have multiple mates but that females produce the same number of adult children whether they have one mate or many. But Gowaty and her colleagues, by performing the same experiment, found that the data were decidedly inconclusive. In their repetition -- and possibly in Bateman's original study -- the data failed to match a fundamental assumption of genetic parentage assignments.
Specifically, the markers used to identify individual subjects were influencing the parameters being measured (the number of mates and the number of offspring). When offspring die from inherited marker mutations, the results become biased, indicating that the method is unable to reliably address the relationship between the number of mates and the number of offspring, said Gowaty.
Nonetheless, Bateman's figures are featured in numerous biology textbooks, and the paper has been cited in nearly 2,000 other scientific studies. "Here was a classic paper that has been read by legions of graduate students, any one of whom is competent enough to see this error," Gowaty said. "Bateman's results were believed so wholeheartedly that the paper characterized what is and isn't worth investigating in the biology of female behavior."
Repeating key studies is a tenet of science, which is why Bateman's methodology should have been retried as soon as it became important in the 1970s, she said. Those who blindly accept that females are choosy while males are promiscuous might be missing a big piece of the puzzle.
"Our worldviews constrain our imaginations," Gowaty said. "For some people, Bateman's result was so comforting that it wasn't worth challenging. I think people just accepted it."...
AND: I'm not convinced that it's a good idea to embrace the term "feminist science." I think Gross's point is that scientists — like everyone else — are vulnerable to confirmation bias, and sometimes the bias is anti-feminist. The correction isn't to adopt a feminist bias, just to become clear-sighted and neutral about detecting bias in either direction. Feminism may drive your enthusiasm to see masculinist bias. You can't duplicate every experiment, and you choose Bateman because you're aggravated and skeptical about this males-love-to-fuck ingredient in the scientific analysis. But in the end, you've got to do your own study properly.
PLUS: Can we talk about the analogy — "a stake strapped to a growing tree... provides scaffolding to help the tree get back on track when it starts to lean too far to one side."
First, scaffolding is the wrong word. Scaffolding doesn't straighten things out. It's a structure used for workers as they build or repair a structure. There are no workers using the tree stakes to do things to the tree.
Second, it's usually detrimental to the growth of a tree to stake it. If you want to use staking a tree as your analogy, you should know more about the things gardeners consider when deciding whether to stake a tree:
Staking a tree that does not need it can do more harm than good. Movement of the trunk helps strengthen it by thickening it and giving it taper from bottom to top. Trunk movement also stimulates root growth... Movement of a tree above where it is tied too tightly to a stake, like movement of an unstaked trunk, results in a thicker trunk above the tie. This difference in thickness upsets smooth travel of water and nutrients up and down the developing trunk....
Your opponents will use your analogies against you, even when it has little to do with the argument you're making. If scientists have been biased — leaning (like a tree?) — then we ought to tie them to a rigid structure pointing in the direction that you believe is straight?